Saturday, May 26, 2007
the day before the day before the first day of summer
i wanted us to get away to a place that would make us feel as though we had actually gotten out of the city without actually having to leave -- so we went to coney island. i'd never been there before but i'd heard lots of stories about it when i was a little kid from my father, who still occasionally waxes poetic now, at the grand old age of 90, about the fun he'd had there as a young man. the question floated before me like a mirage: would i see any of the coney island that my father knew?
everyone on the train was so upbeat about being there. as we headed towards the water, we were surrounded by people of all ages in varying stages of undress. they wandered around strategically and ate all kinds of things, and spoke very little english -- to each other, at least. lots of sailors, too. (i totally forgot that it was fleet week.) and there were other things going on, too -- pretty girls on stilts waving little flags, a tatooed lady here and there, some guy with a puppet that sang and sang. it was a permanent oceanside carny, not unlike any i'd seen and performed in when i lived in texas. too bad there was no frito pie.
sure there was no nathan's hot dogs in the panhandle but there was way better food. every stand seemed to offer the same things: roasted meats on a stick, italian sausages, hot dogs, french fries, hamburgers. fried chicken, fried clams, fried shrimp. fried, fried, fried, with nary a vegetable in sight -- unless you wanted some onions as a garnish. (and yeah, those were fried, too.) it was somewhat crowded, quite relaxed and just a little bit glorious. a punk rock three piece at one end of the boardwalk. a live latin outfit at the other end, with a crowd that leaned in to watch people dance. bad r&b blaring out at you as you passed some ride, some hit or miss game, some spin and barf with the added plus of letting you sail through the air over and over, like a well-controlled well-oiled slingshot. cleaner than average carny. and yes, after listening to story after story of how filthy all of it was supposed to be, the beach was surprisingly clean. it made me giddy, looking out onto that blue horizon line and drinking in all of that fresh breezy sea air and sunshine. my friend was like a tour guide, prattling off facts, leading me this way and that.
which ride would be first? the wonder wheel.
this was a piece of history that my father rode as a kid. how could i say no?
of course, i should have rethought that before i jumped on the cyclone. i think that thing realigned my spine. i'm pretty sure that if i'd eaten something substantial beforehand, i would have involuntarily flung vomit out of the pit of me, far and wide, in wide sloping technicolor streams of undigested glop that would arc high into the air just so and land, hot and steaming and merciless, on the unsuspecting heads and shoulders of most of the small children in the kiddie park directly below. but that's another story.
i'm glad i rode the cyclone and i'd probably do it again just to say that i did it but deep down i wish i hadn't. i should have known better when i saw how padded our seats were. heh.
this is a shot from somewhere atop the wonder wheel.
afterwards, in spite of the fried greasy everything that everyone gorged themselves on, i found a stand that sold nothing but fresh chilled fruit. as we settled into the freak bar and wondered about the demise of coney island, i munched on sliced chilled mango. we fantasized about what it might be like to live out there, in some wide open space with a car, maybe. then again, maybe not. no grocery stores. high crime. high development. that's gentrification in new york city for you. in a few years or so, it'll be the place to live. and everyone who stuck it out and bought something will be saying, "i told you so." yeah. maybe.
my friend wouldn't take me to the sideshow because he said he'd had enough of freaks. and bars, too. i wanted to see chuy the dog-faced mexican. next time, he promised. and there has to be a next time because this is coney island's last time, or at least, it's the last gasp like this: old-school, wide-open, neo-burlesque, cheap, freaky fun.
from what i'd been told, this was coney island's last summer before a massive renovation that would sweep away much of the boardwalk and fill the strip with expensive condos that would stand in the shadow of the high rise projects nearby. in our walk along the dock that extended over the water, one of the city workers confirmed what i'd been told: coney island would be a playground for the rich. astroland would stay and so would the freaks, probably. the developers had even bought an old deserted bathhouse that we'd glimpsed just down the boardwalk. there was just no stopping them. what a mess. the question that no one can answer is, where will the poor people live?
so this is the beginning of summer. almost. do i look like i'm ready for it?
one thing is certain: happiness isn't something that happens to you. it's a choice. i'm really really happy right now. gleefully, giggle-out-loud, throw-my-hat-up-in-the-air, walking-around-smiling-for-no-reason happy. and so is my friend. in a way, it doesn't get any better than that.